Final Post… For Now

Egad! We have now come to the end of this blogging exercise for the semester, and so I find myself asking: what have I learned? Well, I have learned that while I do have a consuming passion for cinema, it is apparently not intense enough for me to feel driven to blog about it consistently. Fellow cinephiles, I feel wretched to confess there have been times that it has felt like a chore, times where I grew very despondent from the low site traffic, times where I grew so busy with uni assignments that my DVD player began to look sad and chaste rather than the promiscuous harlot it should’ve been. Yet I feel that now I have finally had a taste of what it’s like to be a proper blogger, to have a rewarding outlet to ‘Jackson Pollock’ my weird scrambled thoughts all over a webpage, I will have further incentive to continue.

Until I resurrect my film blog in future, I thought it’d be fitting to conclude with a random list of my favourite cinema-related things. Action!

Best Actors

Gary Oldman

Possibly the greatest actor to ever grace the silver screen, Oldman’s ability to completely inhabit his characters is superlative. A chameleon with a stunning unmatched range, I would honestly shoot him into my veins if I could.

Gallen Lo

A much-respected Hong Kong actor with a billion awards to his name, I grew up watching Lo in his succession of highly acclaimed TVB dramas and even had a big nerdy crush on him for a while. So did my mother apparently. Gross.

Best Actresses

Ingrid Bergman

It’s Ingrid Bergman! Her impeccable work speaks for itself. A true Hollywood legend.

Julianne Moore

I’ve admired her for a long time and particularly liked her performance in Blindness. Plus she’s quite possibly the most beautiful ranga ever.

Best film of 2012

It’s a tie between The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers. I know, I know, how mainstream. But I found them both to be really charming and absorbing blockbusters, which is really quite rare for me. TDKR was, as a film critic pointed out, ass-numbingly long and somewhat ruined by Bane’s indecipherable speech… but still felt it was a satisfying curtains for the series. The Avengers won me over with Robert Downey Jnr and Mark Ruffalo’s standout performances.

Worst film of 2012

Rock of Ages

Ugh, what a mess. I’m of the conviction that there hasn’t been a successful musical film since Chicago, and this atrocity was determined to prove me right.

Most anticipated films of 2012

Les Miserables

Squee! Looking forward to being The Most Annoying Person in the World when this hits the theatres in December.

Hitchcock

Anthony Hopkins will be playing the inimitable Master of Suspense, so I nurture a hope yet that they won’t absolutely butcher this.

 

So who are your favourite actors/actresses? And your favourite films? Which films will you be watching this summer? Do share!

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Kerr-ching! Broadcasting Yourself

With over 500 million views for a Korean music video of a grown man doing a preposterous ‘invisible horse-riding’ dance – Psy’s Gangnam Style – it’s safe to say that Youtube has managed the feat of permeating, even colonising the lives of digital natives everywhere.

 

 

What can the ever-increasing ubiquity of Youtube mean for the film industry? Well, let’s begin with the positives.

Discernable by a unique free-for-all logic as underscored by its dictum, ‘broadcast yourself’, Youtube can be used as an experimental space or as fertile training ground for the artistic development of aspiring actors, filmmakers and producers alike. Whether it is a tentative web series or any one of the plethora of amateurish home movies and fan videos, the lawless open-door policy of a mass distribution site like Youtube allows it to function as a public forum which nurtures user-generated innovation and originality. Here, both would-be artisans of cinema and cinema aficionados can exercise their creative muscle, identify the tastes of their market or niche, and promptly receive invaluable feedback/assessments on the products of their labour. Not to mention that the international exposure provided by Youtube regularly attracts talent scouts and investors, sometimes generating stratospheric advances in fame.

 

Successful Youtube star Nigahiga

 

Importantly, amateur fan videos, despite their frequently poor execution, perform the work of easing the path of neoliberal digital capitalism. This is because the fruits of the free labour in making such videos accrue mostly to the proprietors of the material used, in the form of publicity and strengthened brand awareness. Thus, from a commercial perspective, Youtube and the cinema business seemingly share a symbiotic relationship: Youtube delivers a targeted audience for film marketers to exploit in return for advertising revenue, while the film marketers receive a lucrative readily-cultivated consumer market to direct their products at. From an artistic perspective, the Youtube user’s virtually limitless capacity to constantly appropriate and reappropriate cultural products such as films – whether that be in the form of bad lip reading, parody or fanvid – means that they can assume an agentic position of production, not merely a sedentary position of consumption. Youtube thus confers upon the user a gratifying sense of civic participation and is, in Forbes writer John Giuffo’s words, “a microcosm of democracy and its shortcomings.”

Some examples:

Gangnam Style Without Music

 

 

Gary Oldman Tribute

 

 

This sense of freedom, however, is not without its consequences. I think it would be entirely fair to hold Youtube responsible for the attention given to gimmicky, derivative vloggers to the point that they’re slowly beginning to contaminate the film industry. Fred the Movie, anyone?

 

ERMAHGERD

 

Youtube has single-handedly proven that success can be built on the trade of infamy rather than any distinguishable talent. Which probably explains why 50% of all published Youtube content is pure hokum or ‘white noise’.

Perhaps another consequence of YouTube’s relatively underregulated design has been the proliferation of ‘keyboard warriors’ and overzealous trolls. Comments sections bear witness to users’ engendered sense of anonymity and subsequent lack of self-censorship, punctuated by random links to sites which trolls erroneously claim to offer free movies, music, etc., particularly on videos with high numbers of views. Evidently, it’s not the film studios alone who have cottoned on to the marketable potential of Youtube…

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How Social Media Is Changing Cinema

One of the key ways that social media has transformed cinema can be summarised in one word: marketing.

Remember when promoting films used to look like this?

 

 

How archaic but romantic right? That may be so, but social media has made publicity surrounding a film reach the masses much faster (across time) and much wider in latitude (across space). In comparing movie ads in traditional mediums such as newspapers or TV with its online ‘pop-up’ counterpart, the latter definitely has the edge here. Why? The transnationalised condition of the Internet means that movie ads posted on one Facebook page, for example, can appear simultaneously on endless others through the ‘sharing’ or ‘liking’ functions – hence the process of global transmission. Information is not only disseminated at a superior speed on the internet, it’s also accessed by more people who are gradually turning away from old media – hence dramatic falls in newspaper circulation worldwide and struggling local TV networks such as Ten. So the Internet’s appeal is that its progressive, circuited infrastructure can accommodate significantly more traffic and better attract targeted audiences for advertisers than closed media.

 

A Facebook page promoting Paranormal Activity 4

 

Moreover, microblogging sites such as Twitter are used by actors to promote upcoming films, post on-set pictures and details about premiers in order to build anticipation for their millions of followers, thereby maximising commercial profits, not only for their studios but also for themselves if they’ve negotiated a stake of overall takings.

Celebrities using Twitter as part of their obligatory publicity campaigns is fair enough. What truly irks me, however, is their use of it as an avenue for their blatant ‘slacktivism’. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but I seriously doubt that actors carry the right credentials to be political authorities. Take for example, the 2011 Occupy movement. Remember how actors got so caught up in the fever and breathlessly posted some perfunctory updates on Twitter? Maybe it’s my overall disillusionment about what activism really looks like nowadays. Perhaps it resembles a Tweet from the very crutches of corporate greed, urging me to ‘Save the 99% from the 1%’? (Thanks – but aren’t you constitutive of that goddamn 1%??) It all just reeks of tokenism and jumping-on-the-bandwagonism. Even Robert Pattinson, that great bastion of acting (ahem) called out those celebrities who suddenly had a passion for the common people.

 

 

As argued by writer Malcolm Gladwell in his New Yorker piece, “Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted”, animating political and social change takes time. Revolutions can’t be contrived. They won’t happen overnight. And they won’t happen simply because a bunch of overprivileged professional drama queens Tweet about it. Social media is an undoubtedly valuable tool for raising awareness, and actors themselves with their high profiles are fit for that too. But for the whole endeavour to have any meaning or legitimacy, these actors need to invest further than what their thumbs will permit.

Twitter in particular has proven to be an indispensable platform for building brand awareness and certainly for amplifying box office earnings. It has also meant that Hollywood actors can better indulge their questionable commitments to distributive justice. Maybe they are being genuine, who knows? But maybe it’s for the best that actors stick to what they know – acting. And that goes for non-actors trying to act too!

 

 

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The Question of Piracy

Anyone who has ever watched a DVD in their life (by my estimate, 96% of humanity) would have seen the preceding announcement that movie piracy is a form of stealing – not exactly earth-shattering news. Yet most people I know invariably dismiss this dead-serious warning (myself included) with an impetuous nonchalance that could actually land them and I in prison. So I ask – why do we not shake in our boots in the face of such serious consequences? Why do we still illegally download films without so much as a thought for the fact that Hollywood fat cats can sue the pants off of us? Do we think ourselves so invincible that litigation suits will bounce off our impenetrable hides?

 

 

Going by the pretty frightening statistics that are routinely released on the effects of movie piracy, it appears that we do indeed seem a bit ‘cowboy’ about the whole issue. For instance, according to an article I read on the website Freakonomics, online piracy costs the US economy roughly $200-$250 billion every year and accounts for about 750,000 job losses. Alright, I am damned to hell then… was my initial, sobering thought. Thankfully, it turns out that these figures were subject to serious errors in methodology, the big one being double and even triple counting (!) The real figure is apparently closer to $58 billion which, while still sizable enough to question one’s own moral conduct, is nevertheless a little easier to digest.

My theory is that most, if not all, of us operate by a simple economic logic that you don’t pay, or at least try to avoid paying, for something that is available for free – we are rational economic actors. Ground breaking, I know. It isn’t just a question of quantity, however, but also one of quality: suffice to say, I would never pay $18 to see a Transformers film but let’s just say I would find it infinitely more palatable to sit through knowing that my hip pocket nerve hadn’t exploded from the daylight robbery/extortion of a cinema ticket. We are also moral economic actors. I won’t deny that my delight at swiping The Dark Knight for free was tainted by a cloying guilt, regardless of the fact that it was a copy that was given to me rather than one I’d downloaded myself. I still felt like the mini-Bernie Madoff of the film industry. There is a dissonance beneath the satisfaction.

 

 

I know that what I’m doing is wrong – but you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that Hollywood studios making $300 million+ profits are really roughing it from movie piracy. B***h please!

The reality is this: the networked structure of the Internet is marked by the constant free flow of information. It is therefore a notoriously tough medium to regulate. For every illegal file-sharing site that is shut down, two more spring up in its place because online content spreads in a decentralised, horizontal manner. It is hardly possible to locate, much less remove, its roots. It becomes a futile effort to try to stop piracy, hence the appeals to the consumer’s personal sense of morality and accountability.

Alas, I can’t imagine the anarchic Bit Torrent-savvy generation of today is in any rush to start paying for their music and movies any time soon…

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Movie Adaptations: Do They Ever Work?

Much like sequels and remakes, the rule seems to be that movie adaptations of much-loved books leave a lot to be desired.

 

 

One which didn’t work for me: The Harry Potter franchise

I’m probably going to have a (cyber) lynch mob after me for daring to admit this, but I honestly don’t have much love for the phenomenally successful HP film series. I really wanted to love it, since I am a sincere fan of the books. Sadly, in spite of the breath-taking cinematic interpretation of Hogwarts, I thought the story – the heart, the marrow – was sacrificed in service of visual ‘pyrotechnics’. Us book nerds are a crazy lot and we don’t easily forgive distortions of the original material – Christina Mylinski at the Dallas Observer gives a biting breakdown here of all the films’ cardinal sins. Remember Francis Ford Coppola’s version of Dracula anybody? I rest my case. No matter how stunning a picture looks, I simply can’t enjoy it if the narrative isn’t there.

 

 

Take for example 2009’s The Half Blood Prince. What was meant to be the ultimate scene – Dumbledore’s death – left me cold and curiously unsatisfied. When he finally croaked, I felt absolutely nothing… and I was devastated when I read it in the book. I think the HP films, compared to the books, don’t fully convey the characters’ inner lives and consequently, there is an unfortunate lack of emotional investment on my part. This is common I suppose, in the passage from text to screen: there has to be action to keep the momentum going, and if that’s what will gauge the audience, then character development is often designated a secondary position. I still like them mind you, and I appreciate the colossal effort it took to bring J.K. Rowling’s unique vision to the screen and The Boy Who Lived to life – but as a filmic translation of the text? Hmmm.  

Now for one which did work for me: We Need To Talk About Kevin

 

 

Let’s be clear here, I didn’t just choose this art-house film as a conceited ‘up yours’ at blockbuster/popcorn movies. I believe this adaptation to be successful for several reasons. Firstly, the casting is excellent, with the cerebral thespian Tilda Swinton tackling the role of Eva, a conflicted mother who must confront life after her son, Kevin, slaughters a number of his high-school classmates. The book on which it was based caused quite a sensation with its dark and uncomfortable themes of nature versus nurture and a mother-child connection that never quite manages to materialise – yet it was also celebrated by women because, as the title suggests, it busted a can of worms about a subject that was hitherto taboo: the idea of a mother disliking her child from birth. With this heavy subject matter, it would have been too easy for the film to slide into devil-spawn, campy sensationalism. Thankfully, director Lynne Ramsay’s masterfully restrained treatment ensured that the film was all about shadows and suggestions until the climatic finale – not unlike the book itself. Read The Guardian’s review here.

 

 

Can you think of any exceptions that you would judge to be faithful to their antecedents, yet are inventive and breathe new life into the material at the same time?

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Top 5 Memorable Deaths In Film

Pretty much what it says on the box – just not as nihilistic as it sounds.

Warning: clips contain graphic content

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

My favourite entry in the Terminator trilogy. I remember being completely terrified of Arnold Schwarzenegger (not yet ‘The Governator’) and his turn as a ruthless killing machine in the first film, so I was delighted to have him return as a much more sympathetic character in the sequel. Luckily, there’s the shape-shifting T-1000 to assume his post as a ruthless, heart-twistingly frightening antagonist to keep the action from being souffle. This execution particularly blew my young morbid mind.

 

 

2. Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Now this has got to be one of the funniest and most unexpected deaths in film ever. I love the way it’s been set up with the rousing music, which serves to only heighten the hilarity and surprise. Oh, and not to mention it’s Samuel L. ‘motherf*****g snakes on this motherf*****g plane’ Jackson being dispatched – the man appears to have a penchant for monster/animal horror movies. I defy you to watch this with a straight face.

 

 

3. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Lucy Liu’s head being shaved off. Kind of self-explanatory. Stunningly original and a shocking visual to boot. But hey – need you be reminded that it is a Quentin Tarantino piece?

 

 

4. Battle Royale (2000)

This little Japanese thriller kicked up plenty of fuss when it was first released due to its gratuitous violence and subversive themes, eventually becoming one of the most controversial films ever. Coincidentally, it happens to be one of Tarantino’s favourite films, so much so that he apparently wishes he’d made it himself. While the premise of the film is a tad dramatic, involving the forced imprisonment of truant high school students on an island by their fed up teachers who pit them against each other in a game of survival of the fittest (The Hunger Games’ grittier predecessor), I felt it was a fiercely intriguing hypothesis of sorts since the education system in contemporary Japan is indeed very repressive and rigidly controlled by the state. The idea of a rebellious youth being meted so harsh a punishment, then, is overblown but deliciously so. The final death scene is just so bizarre that it has seared itself into my memory forever; it recalls Clare Quilty’s finale in Nabokov’s Lolita in terms of mind-bending weirdness. I couldn’t find a clip of it on Youtube, but I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of the film. If you can take your gore that is.

 

 

5. Scarface (1983)

A man succumbs to a chainsaw. Not too much imagination needed for that one either, folks. Will provide a thrill for fans of American Psycho but is simply too excessive to provide a clip for here. Still, a scene that will impress itself in your mind.

 

 

That concludes my list of top 5 memorable deaths in film. Coming next: a post about sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.

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Profile: Alfred Hitchcock the Great

Ah Hitchcock. Can one truly be called a cinephile without having seen at least one of his works? The mind boggles at such absurdity.

 

 

As a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, I usually avoid things that are subjected to excessive hyperbole. But as a part-time hypocrite, I also like to make exceptions when it suits me. Hitchcock films, regularly hailed as some of the finest in the history of cinema, are one such exception that I am willing to accommodate. Hailed the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock showed incredible talent for building tension in iconic films such as Psycho, Rear Window and the perhaps lesser known, Rope. Brilliant though these undoubtedly were, I much prefer Hitchcock’s romantic, comedic and espionage-themed material. To me, they demonstrate more cogently his unique vision, skill and range as a filmmaker. Here are two examples of what I believe to be some of Hitchcock’s greatest works.

Vertigo (1958):

 

 

My immortal beloved. Many have called this Hitchcock’s best film, even best ever, and I certainly agree with both assessments. The story centers on a detective, Scottie Ferguson who is hired to follow the beautiful yet haunted Madeleine Elster and quickly grows obsessed with her. This obsession only deepens after Madeleine apparently kills herself, sending Scottie spiraling into profound self-loathing which feeds his all-consuming desire to ‘resurrect’ his dead lover in the form of a doppelganger, Judy. Dark, morbid and full of impressive psychological depth, Vertigo is also the most beautiful, romantic and tragic films I’ve ever seen. Yep. A lot of hyperbole happening here for a hyperbole-hater. My opinion of this film, however, would never be so high if not for its powerful, hypnotic score by regular collaborator Bernard Herrmann. Vertigo is also Hitchcock’s most personal film. Some, like film blogger R.D. Finch at The Movie Projector, have even read it as an allegory for Hitchcock’s rumored fixation with Grace Kelly, after whom he allegedly tried to model his succession of icy-blond actresses (e.g. Tippi Hedren in The Birds – now subject of an HBO telemovie, The Girl). Whatever the case, Vertigo certainly stands as a very unique film amongst his body of work. Here is one of its most memorable scenes (note the peerless camera work):

 

 

North by Northwest (1959):

 

 

Ferociously entertaining, this is the first Hitchcock film where I really fell in love with the dialogue (penned by legendary screenwriter Ben Hecht). It is just so sharp, witty and funny and the actors breathe so much life into it. This is also the first film that I’d seen with Cary Grant, after having read so much about his sex symbol status, and was immediately enamored by his comic delivery and handling of the suave Roger Thornhill character. Oh yeah, and he is insanely easy on the eyes for a 50-something year-old man. As for the plot, it does defy belief: a chase across Mount Rushmore, assassinations at the UN and Cary Grant speeding along serpentine roads blind drunk at night without killing a single person? Totally crazy but undeniably makes for a ripping good ride. Not to mention the very cheeky ending courtesy of Hitchcock, which thankfully escaped the notice of the Hollywood Production Code ‘fun police’. Admittedly, it’s a curiously unsatisfying ending for such an exhilarating caper and not one of my favourites of Hitchcock’s – but the final shot more than compensates.

 

 

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